This week’s jam-packed portion opens with these words: “I set before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing: if you obey the commandments of God…; the curse if you do not … and you follow other gods.”
It continues with rules and laws for the land of Israel primarily oriented towards staying away from idol worship and from embracing the other religions in the land.
One of the indications of the existence and necessity of the Oral Torah — an explanation and clarification of the written Torah (The Five Books of Moses) — comes from verse 12:21 “You will slaughter animals … according to the manner I (God) have prescribed.” Nowhere in the Torah are we instructed in the manner of shechita, ritual slaughter. One might conclude that there was a very sloppy editor. Or — one might conclude that there are additional teachings clarifying and amplifying the written Word which is what is referred to as the Oral Torah, the instructions Moshe taught the people and which have been handed down throughout the generations.
The source of the Chosen People concept is found in 14:1-2: “You are a nation consecrated to God your Lord. God has chosen you from all nations on the face of the earth to be His own special nation.” We are chosen for responsibility, not privilege — to act morally and to be a “light unto the nations.”
The Torah states, “For if you shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him…” (Deuteronomy 11:22). How does one “cleave to the Almighty?”
The Torah tells us that even someone who appears to be highly observant of the commandments and loves God, must show in his behavior and interactions with others that he is an imitator of God (“to walk in all His ways”). Only then can a person be considered as one who cleaves to Him. Emulating God means being compassionate and bestowing kindness on others. (“He is merciful so we should be merciful, He bestows kindness, so we should bestow kindness” — Rashi). One might think that a person who loves God need only devote himself to prayer and Torah study and by this means he will cleave to God. We see from this verse, however, that an essential ingredient in cleaving to God is caring about our fellow man.
It is by truly caring about others (you shall love your neighbor as yourself) that we show ourselves to be godly.
It is noteworthy that this parsha is read just before the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul which will begin on Tuesday of this coming week (actually at sundown on Monday). Elul, when spelled in Hebrew letters, is the acronym for the words, “I am to my beloved, my beloved is to me” (ani l’dodi v’dodi li — oftentimes it will be inscribed on the inside of an engagement ring).
The month of Elul is a time of heightened spirituality where the Almighty is, as it were, closer and more approachable. It is a time of introspection and preparation for Rosh Hashanah. It is a time to do a spiritual audit and to fix up your life.
In Tune with Torah this week = as we approach the month of Elul, let us take very seriously the admonition to use this coming month as an opportunity to do a true “check up from the neck up” – to examine ourselves and our thought life as it is our thoughts that give birth to our words and our behaviors. How are we doing at loving others as we love ourselves, for example? This is the month to search our own souls and determine to grow in godliness in the new Hebrew year which will begin on September 4, 2013.